Monday, March 18, 2013

Simple Asparagus

This is another vegetable I've come to love after years of insisting it was on my "won't touch with a 29 1/2-foot pole" list.  (Brussels sprouts are, unfortunately for them, still on that list.)  It's the time of year when fresh asparagus is showing up in the grocery stores again (at least, around here), and that means it's not only plentiful, but also quite flavourful.  I'm excited about trying new ways of enjoying it again this spring and summer, but here's a classic, fast, delicious way to prepare asparagus that may - if you're on the fence, or even completely against it - just change your mind about asparagus for good.

1 bunch fresh asparagus
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt

Wash asparagus and break or cut off base where they naturally want to break/be cut. (NOTE: I cut them, and I just gently press a sharp knife into the flesh of each piece and if it doesn't easily cut through, I move up the stalk until it does.)  Place asparagus in a baking dish and sprinkle in oil and salt.  If desired, roll asparagus in oil to ensure all are covered.  Sprinkle pepper on top to taste.

Broil in the oven for 3-5 minutes until they are done. (NOTE: Keep a very close eye on the asparagus in the broiler, as it will easily burn if left too long.  If you prefer a "safer" route, bake the asparagus at 350 for 10 minutes.)

Serve hot.

What's your favourite early season vegetable?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cucumber Quinoa Fruit Salad

Did the name of this recipe make you do a double take?  Cucumber and quinoa in a fruit salad?  Whaaa--?!?

No, seriously, this is the best thing that's happened to me since...well, since the last time I tried an amazingly delicious recipe and was so glad I'd branched out. (Probably another quinoa recipe...hmmm...)

The base is quinoa to give you some protein and a dose of grains for the day.  The cucumber adds crunch, the mango adds sweet, and the berries add the tart.  I love the different textures in this salad, along with the amazing colours.  It's not only delicious, it's pretty, too!


And to top it all off, you drizzle it with a lemon basil dressing.  No kidding.

Just trust me.  You won't regret it.

NOTE: This recipe made just enough for me to have as my entire lunch.  If you're using it as a side dish, it would probably serve two.

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
3/4 cup mango, cubed
1/2 cup cucumber, peeled and cubed
1/8-1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
10 basil leaves, chopped finely (or 2 tsp dried basil)

Place quinoa and water in a medium skillet and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until the quinoa is cooked and the water has been absorbed. Fluff with fork and cool to room temperature.

Combine blueberries, mango, cucumber, and cranberries in a bowl.

Whisk together oil, lemon juice, basil, salt, and pepper (I just put it all in a clean baby food jar and shook it).  If you're using fresh basil, add it to the dressing just before serving or it will, according to the original poster of this recipe, go black.  If using dried basil, you can combine it with the above ingredients immediately.

Just before serving, add the quinoa to the prepared cucumber and fruit.  Pour dressing over it all and mix carefully.  Serve immediately to avoid sogginess.

Do you have a surprising salad combo you love?

NOTE: The original recipe is posted at  I altered the amounts of a few ingredients from her version, and served all the dressing at once (she says serve half and half on the side), but other than that it is her recipe.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Carrot Cabbage Patties

As an adult I have found a new appreciation for vegetables and enjoy trying not only new vegetables, but new ways to prepare them.  It's been almost two years since I created this recipe and I don't think I've made it since.  I just ran across my notes on what ingredients I used, and thought it would make a good addition to this blog.

NOTE: At the time that I made these my daughter was not yet two and loathed onions.  Okay, at nearly four she still hates them. Anyway, if you want to add onions to this recipe, please do - I think it would be delicious.  To encourage Little Miss to eat them, though, I used onion powder instead.


2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1/2-3/4 cup chopped cabbage
1/8 cup Italian bread crumbs
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 egg
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dill weed
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4-1/2 tsp onion powder

Mix all ingredients together.  Heat frying pan on medium heat.  When the pan is warm, drop mixture by large spoonfuls into pan.  (NOTE: No oil is necessary in the pan.  Adding any will just make the patties greasy.  If your pan tends to stick, spray it with non-stick cooking spray before dropping the mixture in.)

Fry patties until they are golden-dark brown on one side, then flip.  When both sides are golden-dark brown, remove from pan.

Yield: 6 patties

What kind of new concoctions have you created for familiar vegetables?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Discovery: Sliced Almonds

I love salads.  Ten years ago, I never ever in a million years thought I'd say that, but I guess time has a way of maturing a person...and perhaps taste buds.

One part of salads I've always enjoyed is the croutons.  I mean, come on!  Who doesn't love seasoned bread?!?  But as I grew in stature and wisdom (and rotundness), I came to the understanding that croutons add nothing of nutritional value to salad.  They add carbs, raise your blood sugar, and detract from the actual nutrients found in the salad itself. (Of course the dressing doesn't do much, either, but that's a post for another time.)

So when I started eating healthier, I started skipping the croutons.  At buffet salad bars I'd take sunflower seeds for a little crunch, or nothing at all.  There are plenty of things you can combine to make a delicious salad without having to top it with anything.

One day I was scouring the pantry for new ideas and came across a little container of sliced almonds.  I'd purchased them months prior for a recipe of some kind, and the leftovers had just been enjoying the solitude of the back of my pantry ever since.  And somehow, when I saw them this time, I was inspired to sprinkle them on top of my salad.

Photo: (ironically...)

Now, I know this thing called "Almond Accents" exists - roasted sliced almonds seasoned in a variety of flavours.  I've had them before, and they are delicious.  But these almonds that I found were raw and unseasoned.  Completely clean-slated for versatility and creativity.

And ya know what?  They add the perfect amount of crunch to a salad (like a crouton!), while also contributing:
  • Protein
  • Assistance in lowering your cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes
  • Improved blood fat
  • Increased energy
Try it next time you make a salad.  If you enjoy the flavour of croutons or seasoned almonds, try adding some fresh or dried herbs to your salad, as well.  Not only does it add flavour, it also avoids the sodium found in croutons or other seasoned salad toppings.

What's your favourite salad topper to add a bit of crunch without the carbs?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Vegan Quinoa & Sweet Potato Chili

I've been a vegetarian all my life, and never tasted meat (of any kind) until I accidentally bit into a pork egg roll at a Thai restaurant a few years after college.  (For the record, it was delicious and yes, I finished it.)  However, even as a vegetarian I enjoyed a few animal products such as cheese, eggs, and milk. 

As a result of my obsession with nearly everything dairy, the term "vegan" has always scared me.  I once bit into a vegan chocolate cookie riddled with carob chips assuming it was real chocolate and was so severely disappointed and surprised I had to spit it out.

In recent years, though, "vegan" has come to be a widely popular buzz word in foodie land, and no one knows that better than those of us who live in the greater Portland, Ore., area.  Over the years I've come to acknowledge that vegan doesn't have to mean gross; I've had plenty of vegan meals that were blow-me-out-of-the-water amazing and I've even made a few myself.

These days I'm not so skittish of the idea of cooking or eating without dairy products in my food, and I am so glad because...all of this is to say that I may have been turned off by the name of this recipe in a previous life, and I hope if you've made it this far into my blathering post you'll keep reading and discover the delicious combination of ingredients that is this amazing chili.


2 cans black beans (or make your own from dried - you'll need about 30 oz)
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
4 cups vegetable stock
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 cup dry quinoa

Avocado, cubed
Cilantro, chopped
Non-dairy sour cream

Heat the oil in a large heavy soup pot over medium low heat.  Add onions and cook until soft and browning (about 10 min).  Add garlic and cook for 2 additional minutes; add tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, and oregano and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the beans, stock, and potatoes, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook for about 5 minutes, then add quinoa.  Continue cooking for about 15-30 minutes, stirring frequently, until quinoa and potatoes are cooked through, and the chili has thickened.  (Add water if the chili becomes too thick for your liking.) 

If desired, top with avocado, cilantro, and/or non-dairy sour cream.

NOTE: This can also be done in the crock pot; simply toss everything in and cook on high for 4-5 hours.

Do you have a favourite meat-free chili recipe?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bites

Admit it: Your mouth is watering just after reading the title of this post, isn't it?  It's okay, I just wiped some drool off my keyboard, so we're even.

I'm addicted to sweets.  Chocolate is especially dangerous, as is ice cream.  This is why I'm 100+ pounds overweight and trying to change my lifestyle, but even so, I refuse to completely give up sweet things; I just want to move past the addiction part.

One of my favourite naughty things to do is snitch semi-sweet chocolate chips from the freezer when no one is looking (the crinkly packaging tends to give me away, though).  I keep them in the freezer because for some reason the cold chocolate is more satisfying to me than room temperature chocolate.


Anyway, eating handfuls of chocolate chips randomly throughout the day is never a good habit to get into.  And I've been doing it since I was a kid.  Then my friend suggested chocolate peanut butter banana bites.  They are a little time-consuming to make, but definitely worth the effort.  Plus, they're big enough to satisfy a sweet tooth craving but come in easy-to-grab single servings so you don't over-indulge.

A note on the peanut butter: I recommend using a more natural peanut butter such as Adam's, or even fresh-ground from your local health food store such as Trader Joe's or New Seasons.  Skippy, Jif, and other popular brands are tasty, but there's a reason for that - they're full of sugar!  For an effectively healthy treat/snack option, go for the low-sugar, low-sodium varieties.

Peanut Butter (I used creamy, but crunchy would add texture and protein)
Dark chocolate chips (the darker the better - the darker it is, the less sugar it has)

Slice the bananas into relatively thick slices and line them on a wax paper lined cookie sheet.  Place the cookie sheet in the freezer until they are no longer sticky.

Working quickly (to avoid creating a sticky mess), spread a generous dollop of peanut butter on top of each banana slice.  Replace them in the freezer.

While you wait for the bananas to freeze, put the chocolate chips in a double boiler (you can create one by filling a larger pot with water and placing a smaller pot inside it for the chocolate) and begin melting them over med-low heat.

Once the chocolate is melted, pull the bananas out of the freezer and drop them one at a time into the chocolate.  Use forks to roll them until they are completely covered, then replace them on the cookie sheet.

Place the sheet once again in the freezer, and once they've all completely hardened, pull them from the wax paper and place them in a gallon Ziploc freezer bag and put them back in the freezer.

What healthier suggestions do you have for avoiding over-indulging on sweet snacks?

Discovery: Greek Yogurt

Several recipes labeled "healthy" I ran across on Pinterest recently have utilized Greek yogurt.  I am not at all a fan of yogurt - the texture makes me gag because I feel like I'm eating a spoonful of slime - but after seeing the versatility of Greek yogurt (and hearing many testimonials as to its delicious nature and nutritious qualities), I decided to bite the bullet and give it a try.


The first thing I made with it was naan (Indian flat bread) which turned out amazing and is definitely filed under "Do This Again And As Often As Possible."  Then I bought avocados and decided to make guacamole.

When I was a kid my mom made guacamole by adding mayonnaise, salsa, onion, salt, and cayenne pepper.  This time I decided to create my own, healthier (hopefully) version of my mom's delicious guacamole by substituting the Greek yogurt for the mayo.

I was floored when I tried it.  It tasted exactly like the original but the fat content was quite a bit lower than what I was used to.  I think I took this to heart a bit too much and overcompensated by eating extra with my chips that evening, but even my husband (the kids don't eat guacamole yet - though they have tried it multiple times) enjoyed it and agreed it tasted no different than the mayo version.

A few nights ago I was inspired to make fancy dessert for my family.  Usually this treat is reserved for the weekends (when it happens at all), but thanks to a friend's post on Facebook and an incredible sale on fresh strawberries at Fred Meyer, I was in the mood for crepes.

I found a recipe for a sweet cream filling but it was very high fat, using an entire brick (8oz) of cream cheese, a cup of sour cream, and a cup (!!!) of powdered sugar.  In an effort to make this dessert a little less heart-attack-worthy, I cut the cream recipe in half for the same number of crepes (so they only had half the filling the recipe called for), AND...I substituted Greek yogurt for the sour cream.

The first bite just about blew me out of the water, so to speak.  My eyelids literally dropped and I began chewing slowly, savoring the heavenly dish I had created.  Husband was no less impressed.

So, my newest healthy option discovery: Greek yogurt!  It can replace sour cream, oil, butter, mayonnaise, and a host of other things to cut down on unhealthy fat in your favourite recipes.

As a sidenote, I tried it on my breakfast burrito on Sunday in place of sour cream and it wasn't an experience I enjoyed...but I think I could get used to it if I never had sour cream on my burritos again.

How do you use Greek yogurt?

Herbed Quinoa with Beans

I recently discovered why everyone has been talking about the amazingness known as quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) for the past couple of years.  It seems there is always some catch-food (similar to a catch-phrase: everyone is using it and any business possible tries to incorporate it into what they're doing so to draw people in because of said food's reputation, warranted or not) and once we got over acai we moved on to quinoa.  (Is one requirement of catch-foods that its name be impossible for the average American to pronounce?)

My first introduction to this nutrient-packed grain was through a salad a health-savvy friend of mine made.  It was quinoa, spinach, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, garbanzos, red onions, and avocado with a lemon juice/olive oil dressing.  Amazing.  After I seared the inside of my mouth with too much lemon juice from eating this salad every day for a week (almost), I began to hunt for other quinoa recipes.

I found this one on and cut the amount down so it would be just enough for me to take in my lunch the following day.  The only thing I did differently was that I used dried herbs rather than fresh, and when  it was done I added about a cup of seasoned pinto beans I cooked and seasoned myself (read: not out of a can).

I enjoyed this recipe so much I've made it three times now, with a couple of different add-ins.  I'll include my variations at the end of the quinoa recipe.  (NOTE: The recipe below is the full one found at foodnetwork; I divide everything by four to make just enough for myself for a meal.)

2 3/4 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 cups quinoa
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons lemon zest
salt and pepper
In a medium saucepan, add the stock, lemon juice, and quinoa. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 12 to 15 minutes.
In a small bowl (I use a clean baby food jar so I can just put the lid on and shake it), mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, basil, parsley, thyme, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the dressing over the quinoa and toss until all the ingredients are coated. Transfer the quinoa to a bowl and serve.

Beans: Place dried pinto beans in a pot with plenty of water and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and let soak for at least one hour.  Return to boil, then reduce heat to med-low heat to simmer.  Add your choice of seasonings (my favourite combo: Cayenne pepper, Mexican seasoning, and garlic and onion powder) and let simmer for one hour (make sure there are small bubbles rolling on the surface otherwise they won't cook completely).  Once cooked, add to quinoa recipe above.

Vegetables: Place sliced zucchini, diced red pepper, and corn in a frying pan.  Add dried onion flakes (or fresh onion if you prefer) and any desired spices/seasonings.  Sautee (do NOT add oil) over med-high heat until soft.  Toss with quinoa recipe above.
Do you have a favourite quinoa recipe to share?